The Timeless Child Review
I suppose there’s nowhere to begin other than the big reveal, given that it is by an outlandish margin the single worst lore reveal in the entire history of Doctor Who. Making the Doctor the secret origin of all of the Time Lords is absolutely appalling—the sort of “the main character must be the center of the mythology” crap that Doctor Who is historically at its best when it rebels against. Instead of being the schlubby mediocrity who ran away and stumbled through becoming a hero without ever realizing that was what they were working towards, the Doctor is now the Most Specialist Time Lord That Ever Did Time Lord, with magic powers above and beyond the other Time Lords and origins stretching back beyond even the days of Rassilon. The series is now committed to an endless parade of reveals about the secret history of Gallifrey, all of which the Doctor was apparently there for. It’s genuinely terrible—a reveal that takes the dumbest instincts of the Virgin era and strips off the brakes and hedges. It’s not the Other but the Doctor themself that’s at the heart of Gallifreyan history now. It’s as if the Cartmel Masterplan fucked the Leekley Bible and then gave the illegitimate child away to Ian Levine to foster.
Astonishingly, though, none of that actually captures how bad it is. It’s worth actually explaining the reveal out loud with words, so as to actually make your mind confront what happened here. The Shabogans are the indigenous people of Gallifrey who became the Time Lords by stealing the secrets of regeneration from the Doctor’s DNA. Seriously. Say that sentence out loud. Walk up to your bathroom mirror and look yourself in the eyes as you deliver those exact words in an even and calm tone. Repeat until you can do it with conviction, without bursting out laughing. It’ll be a good, healing experience.
As for the episode around it… it’s tempting to just derisively laugh and say “what episode around it.” The Doctor stands around for forty-five minutes while men explain the plot to her. Then, for a resolution, a character whose narrative importance after two episodes consists of “he’s played by a guy who was a minor character in Game of Thrones” swoops in to save the day. The companions have nothing to do but make tepid contributions to the tedious action sequences that fill the gaps between the equally tedious infodumps. The only characters with motivation are the Master and the Cybermen, whose motivation consists of a tattered post-it note saying “be evil.” Macguffins are simply vomited forth out of the ruins of Gallifrey whenever called for, most trashily as the Master casually goes “oh, but I kept all the bodies around.” A key piece of information is delivered to the Doctor in the form of “handily, there’s a legend that addresses the specific thing you’re wondering about.” The specific thing she’s wondering about, incidentally, is actually called the “death particle.” You may want to head back to the mirror and tell yourself that with a straight face too.
Throughout the series I’ve been asking who this is for. Now we have our answer: Series 12 of Doctor Who is a lengthy missive to Ian Levine, groveling at his feet and begging him to come back. “I’ll do anything. I’ll do a fourth R of the Daleks story. I’ll bring back the block-headed Cybermen. I’ll confirm the Morbius Doctors. Just come back.” There’s nothing else here. No other message or insight into the world. Just fanwank for the sake of fanwank. Big revelations about lore that come down to “the fan favorite bits are absolutely the most important things in the series and we promise to never actually challenge or disrupt you in any way.” Finally, we can all see what The Rise of Skywalker would have looked like on a shitty BBC budget.
Is there a way back from this? It’s honestly tough to say. Doctor Who has ignored revelations this big before (indeed, it’s difficult to see how “half human on my mother’s side” could possibly be true now, despite apparently being confirmed by Hell Bent, which, to be fair, it remains unclear whether Chibnall has actually seen), but that was aided by nine years off the air and a revival that spent a few years being deathly allergic to continuity. This is obviously going to be picked up on next season. And by asking specific questions tied to big chunks of lore, it effectively hangs a loaded gun on the mantlepiece. Unlike the Hybrid, where Moffat cleaned up after himself and ensured that nobody would ever have to deal with his earth-shattering revelations about the Doctor’s origin again, Chibnall has set this up to be reckoned with. Obviously his story is ongoing and he has reveals to include, but he’s deliberately opened a gap larger than he can fill. Any revelation about the past lore of Gallifrey now has the Doctor written into it as a major figure.
Much like someone was (and is) always going to bring back Gallifrey, some writer is going to give in to the easy temptation of delving into the vast secret history of the Doctor/Time Lords. We are very likely stuck with this radically different view of what Doctor Who lore is like. Much like Robert Holmes’s “twelve regenerations” line, this is something that’s going to come back. Except that Holmes was just hurriedly solving a plot problem in the story he was writing. Chibnall absolutely intends to be forcing every future writer to play in his sandbox. His goal is to shove Doctor Who into the straitjacket of bog standard cult SF lore reveals. That the result doesn’t make a goddamn bit of sense, trampling gamely on continuity from An Unearthly Child (why the hell is the Ruth Doctor’s TARDIS a police box? To say nothing of the characterization in that story as the Doctor learns to be a hero, something he apparently always was given his status as a Super Secret Agent for the Time Lords) to Time of the Doctor (so what, did the Time Lords just send an idle wisp of energy at the Doctor for show?) is beside the point. This is the lore now. Even if some subsequent writer goes to the heroic lengths to ignore this that it deserves, we’re stuck with this as a Major Revelation to be explored. Maybe something not terrible can come out of this. More likely, this is the rare story that does permanent damage to what Doctor Who is.
I’d say “we’ll see,” but I’m honestly not sure. For the first time since the TV Movie, I feel prepared to walk away from Doctor Who. I honestly don’t know if I’m going to review Revolution of the Daleks. I honestly don’t know if I’m going to do a Whittaker-era Eruditorum. I don’t actually think there’s anything to be said about this era of Doctor Who, and I’m not sure I care about anything that follows up on rendering the show a piece of generic sci-fi television for the convention crowd. This isn’t good television. It isn’t interesting television. And while I reserve the right to change my mind, I honestly don’t think I want to watch it anymore.
Somewhere between the TV Movie and The Twin Dilemma.
March 2, 2020 @ 12:31 am
Well said. It’s remarkable how dispiriting this is, this diminishment of the show, of the character, shrinking it down into this tropey box.
I am very much reminded of Moffat’s words from this interview from a few years ago https://youtu.be/styqnGNTffM?t=941
CHRISTEL: You also seem fascinated by the Doctor’s origin story too.
MOFFAT: Or the absence of it….
I think you have to have enough room for sort of ambiguity, leverage, that some of it can be ignored if you don’t want it, if you don’t want it in your own personal headcanon – which is the only place Doctor Who is real, in the headcanon of the people who watch it. If you don’t want that, if you don’t want him to be the little boy in the bed, that’s okay. Maybe it was the Master. You know, there could could be all sorts of different interpretations if you don’t want that….
He’s given conflicting accounts of why he runs around the universe and I think it’s okay to add to those conflicting accounts so long as you don’t make one definitive….
We don’t do the story of why he left in the first place…unless Chris does it, in which case it’s a very good idea!
That’s all aged rather interestingly…
March 2, 2020 @ 12:33 am
I wouldn’t blame you.
Myself, I’ve just discovered Infinity Train, an animated series whose creator grew up watching Tom Baker/Peter Davison VHS tapes. The premise is not only great in its own right – an infinite train where each (dimensionally transcendental) car is its own themed world – but the train works on explicit narratological rules, with character arcs and progression being built into the structure of the show. The second season has the best and most morally clear-eyed use of allegory for the LGBTQIA+ experience I’ve ever seen.
I think I’ll concentrate on my other fandoms for the near future.
March 2, 2020 @ 12:38 am
Forgot to add that I am extremely happy I sat out watching this season.
March 2, 2020 @ 12:34 am
The worst episode of NuWho by some margin. I just watched a TV show eat itself for 65 minutes.
We have smashed through the looking-glass face first, and the shards are strewn about the floor, streaked with our lacerated flesh. It’s gone from farcically bad to apocalyptically bad.
March 2, 2020 @ 2:50 am
This definitely isn’t the worst episode of NuWho in my eyes, that honour would still go to the ‘amazon is good, actually’ rubbish that was Kerblam. I can’t even say I feel angry at this episode, I just kinda feel hollow. I feel nothing. This is someone coming up with a concept – what if the doctor was the original timelord?? – and writing a vapid plot around it, along with some of the most filler-y action scenes to pad out the run-time. A run-time that was already longer than usual…
This was a nothing episode. This was a fan speculation theory turned into 65 minutes of television. But because it was put on television, it’s now ‘canon’ and every discussion about the show has to acknowledge this trite. It’s just depressing. I can’t even bring myself to get mad over it; I feel any effort I put into getting upset over this episode would be more effort than Chibnall put into writing it.
March 2, 2020 @ 8:12 am
No, this is most definitely the worst episode of nuWho. I’m able to accept that Kerblam is actually a reasonably competent story with an ending which goes against everything I personally stand for and was thus completely anathema. The Timeless Children was just bad top to bottom. Thus the only part of El’s review I even remotely disagree with is the ranking, because if I was given a choice between watching the TV Movie, The Twin Dilemma or The Timeless Children then it would be a no brainer for me to choose the TV Movie and The Twin Dilemma ahead of TTC. In fact, if you took the worst tendencies of both, and reimagined The TV Movie and The Twin Dilemma as one: The Doctor carries the remains of two twins back to Gallifrey before the TARDIS malfunctions. The Doctor is subsequently forced to regenerate. He becomes an angry, bombastic man who tries to strangle his companion. The wooden twins are reborn. The angry, bombastic man who is now wearing a horrendous costume reveals he’s half-human on his mother’s side, which is seemingly confirmed. Some stuff happens etc. The end. Would still be somehow more compelling and do less damage, or certainly damage which is far easier to fix, than The Timeless Children.
March 2, 2020 @ 12:34 am
Arguably, despite doing a story so steeped in Gallifrey lore, it precludes the need to ever do anything more with Gallifrey. It is robbed of its mystique, both by completely explaining one of the central mysteries, and by saying the Doctor isn’t a Time Lord and their story doesn’t begin there. It might as well be a lifeless husk.
I see what you mean about Hell Bent. Chibnall seems to give credence to Missy’s idea (proven to be true by Hell Bent) that the Doctor was once a little girl, but also he seems to posit that the Master is the hybrid and that the Matrix needs explaining again.
March 2, 2020 @ 1:26 am
The Matrix would need explaining again for a new audience.
March 2, 2020 @ 12:51 am
The funny thing is, it actually referenced the Leekley bible too.
March 2, 2020 @ 12:52 am
It was always going to be this bad when they threw history and continuity out of the window, bowed to the BBC SJW’s, and cast Whittaker.
We told you so. Reap it.
March 2, 2020 @ 1:04 am
Literally none of the things wrong with this episode were casting Whittaker, ignoring the history of the show, or its leftist politics (of which there were none).
You misogynistic shitstain.
March 2, 2020 @ 1:04 am
I don’t think the Doctor being genetically superior to all time lords, attempting to kill an evil man of south Asian descent, only to have the actual saving of the day by an old white man is what SJWs want either.
March 2, 2020 @ 8:20 am
Indeed – it confirms what I’ve thought since day one. Whitaker’s casting was done to troll the misogynistic shitstains, and basically every single other thing about the show since that has been done to troll those of us who use phrases like “misogynistic shitstain”.
WHO IS THIS SHOW SUPPOSED TO BE FOR?
March 2, 2020 @ 8:40 am
The occasional Desi villain is within SJW demands, providing it’s outside of any sort of context of stereotypes, colonialism or the like. Representation includes being proportionally as villains, otherwise it starts projecting unfair expectations of nobility.
March 2, 2020 @ 2:49 am
This wouldn’t have been any less crap with a male Doctor. Even Tom Baker wouldn’t have saved this.
March 2, 2020 @ 5:08 am
Dear god. You’re right that Tom Baker couldn’t have made it watchable. That’s depressing to contemplate.
(and right about the other thing too, obviously.)
March 2, 2020 @ 4:29 pm
Casting Whitaker never threw anything out the window. There’s been multiple instances in the show of male time Lords regenerating into women
March 2, 2020 @ 12:58 am
Whilst I think I share some of your concerns, it is a consistent pattern that major changes to Doctor Who’s (or more specifically Gallifrey’s) apparent lore are met with resistance from long time fans.
This does not always prevent them from becoming a successful part of the program, and even becoming embraced by the fans.
Though I feel that’s more likely to happen if whoever succeeds Chibnall chooses to build from this unlikely springboard and take it to more interesting places, than by virtue of whatever will directly follow along next season.
Paul F Cockburn
March 3, 2020 @ 12:44 am
“… it is a consistent pattern that major changes to Doctor Who’s (or more specifically Gallifrey’s) apparent lore are met with resistance from long time fans.”
Absolutely; I’m old ‘n’ decrepit enough to remember all the big fandom hoohah (delivered, slowly, in bimonthly fanzines that arrived courtesy of the Royal Mail) in the aftermath of “The Deadly Assassin”. Hinchcliffe and Holmes – but especially Holmes – were repeatedly accused of destroying “the Magic of Doctor Who”, or at least ignoring the fans’ own head canon, which the fans mistakenly assumed was absolute Doctor Who Continuity.
It appears to be inevitable that, according to the loudest voices in fandom at any particular time, the “worst production team ever in the history of the show” is… well, whichever is the present one. Generally because they’re not producing the kind of show that those most vocal critics want.
That said, I may be biased, but I’d still say that Robert Holmes – dangerous and sometimes lazy cynic that he was – could sure write something more entertaining than the current show runner.
July 20, 2020 @ 10:31 pm
I tend to agree with you. Whenever I hear someone proclaim that something is “the worst story ever” – not saying I heard it while reading this, mind you – I always hear it in the voice of Comic Boy Guy from THE SIMPSONS, and I usually respond to it the same way.
I do get why some fans are upset by all of this. Personally, though, I get excited by shakeups in the show of this kind, as it means there’s the possibility of creating something new out of the old – dare I say by means of alchemy? (See, I DO read this blog.) The former poster is right, that the next showrunner (and possibly even Chibnall) could take this in an interesting direction. It’s not like history can be rewritten, right? And in terms of whether it subverts all of established continuity, this seems very much in keeping with the Seventh Doctor’s assertion that he’s “more than just another Time Lord.” I’m not honestly not seeing this as any more show-destroying than the so-called Cartmel Masterplan would’ve been (or, to bring up an example that I personally did NOT like as much, DEATH COMES TO TIME).
While I won’t be so dickish as to bring up the MST3K mantra in this case, I will bring up the old saying about Michigan weather: “If you don’t like it right now, just wait, it’ll change.” That’s in the very nature of this show, and this shouldn’t make anyone want to walk away for good – maybe for now, yes, but not for good.
March 2, 2020 @ 12:59 am
Now this is why I own all six volumes of TARDIS Eruditorum. And I paid much less for them than they were worth.
March 2, 2020 @ 1:23 am
Oh, how I laughed at this line. Thanks for bringing some levity into this dire, dire situation.
Now, forgive me – but I’m in need of a catharsis of spurious morality, and have got to lay a few more kicks on this story.
Pretty much anytime I’ve had a chance to talk about Doctor Who Series 11 I have savaged The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos for being an incompetently-told story about nothing. Now, with one more year to develop Who into what he wants it to be, Chibnall has delivered us an incompetently-told story about…what? The Morbius Doctors? Certainly not about the main cast. As you say, they barely featured in this hour-long episode. Ryan made his basketball shot. Graham and Yaz actually spoke to one another. The Doctor had one brief moment of agency (which the Master set her up to do…ugh) before it was yanked out of her hands by a nothing character whose line of “No, Doctor, I started this by sending the Cyberiad back in time in the first place” made me fucks-sake harder than I ever have before.
It wasn’t about Asad, who never did become more than just another Tim Shaw. It wasn’t about Tetakkahamanahamana or whoever. Arguably, it was about the Master who as you said at least had motivation. But by failing to engage with the character in any meaningful way, this wasn’t “a story I have to tell about the Master” but “a story that needs the Master to be told”.
Compare and contrast to the last two biseasonal Master/Cyberman finales – which were always focused on the motivations of and relationships between the Doctor, Clara, Danny, Missy, Nardole and Bill. It was clear with those stories that that WAS the story, the only reason they were told and the only reason they were worth telling. It’s what made them moving, heartfelt, hilarious and beautiful.
Rachael Talalay once related a Steven Moffat quote on how to realise a moment in one of his scripts: “the logic is flexible, the poetry is immutable”. That was what they made – all of them: Moffat, Talalay, Capaldi, Coleman, Gomez, Mackie, everyone – they made Who that was poetic. And it was a privilege to watch it.
Now we have Who that is prosaic. A sequence of things happening without originality or substance, where the “things” have to accelerate to increasingly desperate ends to hold the attention of a dwindling audience in the streaming era. I cannot imagine viewers coming back for these characters, for a show this….heartless.
However, I still remain hopeful that the circle will turn and the show will rise again. I have to. And when that day comes I look forward to reading about it here. Until then, good luck my dears.
March 2, 2020 @ 1:35 am
This is some of the best written praise not only of the S8 and S10 finales, but the Moffat era at its best as a whole. Well said.
March 2, 2020 @ 6:57 pm
I agree with you about The Battle of Rancid Yak Colon being atrocious. I’d actually rank this story above that. (Damning with faint praise here, doubtlessly). Battle felt completely inert. There were plenty of incompetent moments here, but it didn’t feel as inert as Battle. That might be due to casting Sasha Dhawan as the Master, who is the saving grace of all of this. It makes you wish that he had been chosen instead of Jodie, and was encouraged to look back at the other Doctors for developing the character.
I think that where RTD took City of Death as his model of what he wants new Doctor Who be be like, Chibnall instead selected Time and the Rani as his model. All season 10 had the same inertness and ennui that TatR had.
Good quote from Talalay. It’s true that Moffat went for the poetic more than what was scientifically feasible. That’s why we ended up with Dr. Science cringing at things like the Moon being a giant space egg, and plants pumping out a lot highly flammable oxygen into the atmossphere actually keeps the atmosphere from getting set on fire by solar flares. He wasn’t as worried about the science as long as the poetry was right. Now, with Chibnall, we’ve still abandoned the science but lost the poetry, and there’s nothing of substance left, except some fanwank that goes so far that it might have made even the late Craig HInton blush.
March 2, 2020 @ 7:49 pm
Sasha Dewan gave me a new appreciation for the subtlety, nuance and wit that Anthony Ainley brought to the role.
March 2, 2020 @ 1:30 am
On the reveal: I liked half of it — the Doctor having pre-Hartnell lives is fine with me. Had that been the big surprise, I’d have been totally fine with it (although it would hopefully have had a better episode around it).
The Doctor being the chosen special one is Randian in the extreme, and absolutely counter to the show’s central philosophies. I’m almost sort of disgusted by the moral implications of it.
Cyber-Lords looked neat, but that was about the only thing worth praising. The Master is profoundly boring after Missy, the companions are still a big mess of nothing, Ko Sharmus was nonsense…I just wish I could say I cared more?
March 2, 2020 @ 2:51 am
The Doctor isn’t a chosen special one unless a future writer wants to spin it like that. She’s an absolute nobody, has no sure place in this universe. Her only known distingushing mark is regeneration. There’s not the slightest thing Randian about it! Surely not the slightest thing.
March 2, 2020 @ 3:00 am
Also I thought the plan to escape in cyber suits was worth praising. Very scary.
Roderick T. Long
March 2, 2020 @ 10:30 am
“The Doctor being the chosen special one is Randian in the extreme”
I don’t see how it’s Randian at all. The Randian vision is that you are what you choose now to be, and that your birth and heritage don’t matter: no one is “chosen” except insofar as they are self-chosen.
June 12, 2021 @ 11:57 am
I don’t think it’s Randian either, but the Doctor IS a Chosen special and not a nobody, she’s the only member of her race that ever was in our universe and the origin of the entire Time Lord civilization, the one real authority that has existed to them.
March 2, 2020 @ 1:40 am
Maybe a new showrunner could write a series in which the Doctor gets over the shock and begins to believe in her own massive importance to the history of the Time Lords, only to then find that it was jsut the Master tampering with The Matrix and they were just a common or garden renagade Time Lord after all.
March 2, 2020 @ 10:03 am
That was perhaps the only part I think I enjoyed – that Chibnall very, very carefully didn’t ‘prove’ any of it, and got around a lot by using the “redacted” idea.
All he actually did was posit an implausible origin story via The Master. I’m not remotely convinced that any of it is “true” as it was merely Matrix Archive Footage ™.
Then again, he didn’t actually bother to explain anything – Brendan, the Ruth Doctor, Ko Shamus, the Death Particle – nothing. Anyone who ever says that Moffat cheats needs to be forced to watch this. How could this be the same person who wrote Broadchurch?
March 3, 2020 @ 12:35 am
Agreed he seems to have left himself a lot of wriggle room to get out of it again. And when the Matrix first appeared in Dr Who The Master had been tampering with it so he has form.
I’m sort of hoping it turns out like the scene in one of the Hitchhiker books when Zapod Beeblebrox enters a device that shows him his place in the universe. Most entering are driven mad by the realisation of how insignificant they are, Zaphod comes out fine because he’s realised just how important he is (roughly where we are now with the Doctor). But then Zaphod discovers this is only because he’s actually in a mini universe designed as a trap for him…maybe something like that (clutching at straws here)
March 2, 2020 @ 1:48 am
“did the Time Lords just send an idle wisp of energy at the Doctor for show”
Maybe. That’s what I was thinking during this episode. It would be consistent with the Doctor not having a regeneration limit. They were lying to him again.
“The Shabogans are the indigenous people of Gallifrey who became the Time Lords by stealing the secrets of regeneration from the Doctor’s DNA.”
“stealing the secrets of regeneration”, right or wrong, is a particular linguistic spin on what the Shabogan person actually did.
I can see the criticism of the Doctor no longer being a “mediocrity” who stumbled their way towards heroism, but is your concern to do with “great man theory” or something similar? Perhaps it is imagined that this is Chibnall’s schtick, but we don’t know where “the timeless child” came from. This is a complete mystery. And her importance in Time Lord history is only of great significance is we believe the Time Lords own view of themselves as very important, and now it appears (again but in a new way) that they aren’t all that important. Perhaps this is healthy. And the Doctor, as well as still not knowing who she is, is also missing a lot of her own history. Maybe this is easier to get out of than we imagine.
One thing I’m in some agreement on, That tension could have been resolved with something more profound and interesting than Ko Shamus swapping with the Doctor, and right now I think the episode deserved better than that.
March 2, 2020 @ 7:00 pm
Possibly the Time Lords who sent the wisps of energy weren’t aware of the Doctor being the Timeless Child and already having plenty of regeneration energy to spare. It could end up supercharging him and would explain why the regeneration was violent enough for him to shoot down Daleks and Dalek ships with the energy Smith was putting out.
March 2, 2020 @ 10:52 pm
“”stealing the secrets of regeneration”, right or wrong, is a particular linguistic spin on what the Shabogan person actually did.”
There was an implication that it might have progressed as far as vivisection. Even without that, ‘running medical experiments on your adopted child’ is a bit ethically dubious.
March 2, 2020 @ 1:59 am
Chibnall’s run is just a fever dream brought on by the Doctor’s regeneration sickness. That’s my headcanon, and I’m sticking to it.
Kyle J Rath
March 2, 2020 @ 2:39 am
It took me longer to cultivate the words in my head that you arrived at so eloquently.
If this episode, or “arc”, is designed to be a slowly smoldering gotcha, unfolding at some awkward time later, I will be even more annoyed., and let down by the tepid quality of this offering. Too many holes. Too many inconsistencies.
March 2, 2020 @ 2:54 am
Awful. Truly, irredeemably awful. The first episode of Nu Who that I would rate a 0/10, and a contender for the worst in all 50+ years. Some of the most emotionally hollow drivel that I have ever watched.
Did anyone feel a thing when that guest character died at the beginning buying time for Graham, Yaz, and the others? No. Was there any catharsis from Barrsiton Selmy rushing in to be the one who really saves the day? No. Did a single moment of any of this cohere narratively? No.
Hand this trash to the Daleks and let them exterminate it.
March 2, 2020 @ 8:43 am
Someone already said it, but surely this episode, for all its faults, isn’t the moral stain that “Kerblam!” was? I mean ffs, the Doctor found an exploited workforce rebelling against oppressive conditions AND TOOK THE OPPRESSOR’S SIDE.
Still not got over that. Lore bollocks I can handle, the Doctor siding with what it should be obvious are the villains is so… wrong I can’t understand how it ever got made.
March 2, 2020 @ 9:04 am
I suppose it’s a matter of how you define “worst episode”. Even an ethical atrocity of a Who story will still usually have some odd complications, nuances, maybe a shred of creativity in there. A reason that someone might hypothetically enjoy or be interested in watching it. (We’ve surely had enough Talons discourse to see that by now.) Whereas other episodes might be ethically unremarkable, but represent terrifying sheer voids of artistic value through their sheer emptiness. The kind of product that makes you wonder what the hell you’re doing with your life.
March 2, 2020 @ 3:42 pm
Exactly. Just because something has terrible ethical implications doesn’t mean it’s “bad” television in itself or not worthwhile doing. Kerblam in this regard is perfectly competent. I don’t “like” it personally because of those ethical implications, but viewing it objectively, it’s interesting in its own right for the very fact it at least has something to say. The same can’t be said of The Timeless Children, which has nothing substantial to say and I consider bad by practically every conceivable metric.
March 2, 2020 @ 3:27 am
Right from the start, Chibnall didn’t want Doctor Who. For a showrunner it’s a poisoned chalice, without question. For Chibnall, coming off the success of Broadchurch and being touted as the next big thing on TV, and an award winner, simply continuing Doctor Who was never going to be a positive step. The show is beloved by fans and derided by the industry, and the BBC itself.
The only way to assuage his wounded pride is to make it a show about ‘issues’. I don’t believe he had the talent to pull that off within the vehicle of Doctor Who, and then he hired a number of writers most of whom didn’t have the talent to pull it off. Change the sex of the lead character (he only took on Doctor Who if that was part of the deal), not for narrative reasons but for the shock value. Even if you like the idea, he didn’t seem to have any roadmap as to how that could work in the context of Doctor Who.
I have always believed his approach was an ego thing, “Look, I’m only taking on Doctor Who, which is beneath my dignity, because I’m making it about issues. That way I’m not just making a children’s show, I’m making something meaningful.”
March 2, 2020 @ 3:34 am
And this episode is the culmination of that approach.
‘My name is Chibnall, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
March 2, 2020 @ 12:49 pm
“The show is beloved by fans and derided by the industry, and the BBC itself.”
This was certainly true in my misspent youth, but is it so for the new series? Or do you just mean the Chibnall stuff?
March 2, 2020 @ 11:34 pm
Hyperbole… derided was a bit much, I’ll restate as not respected on a showrunner’s resume as much as say, Broadchurch or Sherlock.
Oh, and thanks for the reply.
March 2, 2020 @ 4:05 pm
“Derided by the industry”? Really? It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s not universally derided.
March 2, 2020 @ 3:37 am
Apart from anything else, who the fuck from the general public wants to watch a short segment from ‘The Brain of Morbius’ being explained, as part of their Sunday evening entertainment?
I think the last time the show ever tried to do a ‘this will change everything’ moment was when the Valeyard’s identity was revealed. At least that had implications. This doesn’t. It means nothing.
March 2, 2020 @ 8:47 am
The Valeyard’s identity was mostly changing the season-long story it was actually telling. (Not a very coherent or good story, but it was at least trying. And hey, it had the whole “Doctor Who was put on hiatus for not being good enough? Let’s have the Doctor watch Doctor Who and argue about how good it is, whether it should be violent, omniscient narrators and such” schtick, which is more than Chibnall is going to give you.)
March 2, 2020 @ 12:59 pm
We’re actually re-watching Season 23 now. The Valeyard is profoundly awful idea, but Michael Jayston is so terrific in the role that it almost doesn’t matter. Sacha Dhawan is admittedly doing Simm, but he’s so terrific that he gets away with it. In fact, he out-acts Jodie, especially in this episode, where she’s stuck with just standing around blankly.
March 2, 2020 @ 7:59 pm
The best thing about the Valyard was something Moffatt did with it, and it was so subtle most people didn’t even catch it. Supposedly, the Valyard was born of the Doctor’s worst impulses in the transition between his 12th and final incarnations. By establishing that the 10th Doctor post-Journey’s End was actually the /12th/ Doctor, it meant that the Valyard was actually born out of that plaintive “I don’t want to go!” whine that summed up the Timelord Victorious’s resentment over approaching the end of his lifespan. A resentment that drove him to seriously consider letting Wilfred die to save his own live.
March 2, 2020 @ 10:52 pm
My own personal head-cannon is that 10 post Journey’s End has been so traumatised by the aborted Regeneration that’s why he starts to go mad. Especially since it explains the question of “Why has no-one else ever done this?” with the answer “Bad things happen if you do. How bad? It turns the Doctor into the worst version of himself.”
March 2, 2020 @ 4:09 am
You know, this is actually kind of nihilistically hilarious. Like, I hated it, because it had all the qualities of a Chibnall disaster, but… It’s sort of freeing.
See, I loved what Hell Bent did for Clara. And I was never one of those people who wanted a big Gallifrey epic or anything. But when I started the show, I got really emotionally invested in the Doctor’s relationship with their home. I was so happy when Day of the Doctor happened. And I suppose I kind o missed the point of Series 8 a bit, about how the Doctor was never going to get a great big “coming home” moment. So when Moffat (whom I adore) declined to deliver a “and the Doctor finally comes home” beat, I was frustrated, and felt like that one little bit of catharsis was basically never going to happen to me. Over the years, the degree to which I have cared about the series’ lore has steadily declined. The parts I cared about, as a New Series fan – the Time War, and its consequences – became increasingly irrelevant. The main source of stories about that corner of the mythos was Big Finish, finally allowed to eat up the scraps once they’d gone cold and stale. I had to learn to content myself with the every-day charms of Doctor Who. I mean, those have become Temporarily Unavailable, due to Chibnall, but. You Know. Happy days will come again and all that.
So this episode, we get… a reveal that renders the lore totally irrelevant. The Time Lords are no longer the Doctor’s origin story, they’re just a thing that happened to the Doctor. I love me some Hartnell-Era Character Development, and the Doctor’s forgotten history as a Time Lord Super Agent doesn’t really diminish it in my eyes – she doesn’t remember it, so we’re still basically in the VNAs’ territory of “well that’s all quite interesting, but who cares?”
But more importantly, one platoon of cybermen who always drezzzzzz for the occasion later, we suddenly have a show about a madwoman in a box, whose history is now so open to interpretation that… Chibnall can do his worst, but it literally won’t matter at all. He’s Chibnall-proofed it. What’s he going to do, give her another explicit origin that someone else can easily rewrite? Who cares?
The end result, really, is just that the Time Lords don’t matter anymore. And yeah, that might be the bit of the show that’s broken now – if anybody ever REALLY wants to use them for anything interesting again, they’re gonna require a hell of a lot of super-glue. But otherwise…
There’s gonna be someone after Chibnall. Someone good, hopefully. Someone who can put the twinkle back in the series’ eye. And they’re never going to have to give a rat’s ass about the Time War, or Rassilon, or Morbius, or the Rani, or any of it ever again.
This was horrible. I hated it. But it’s kind of delightful.
(Badly recreating all the stuff with the Moment genuinely made my skin crawl, though. Chibbs does seem to love to piss on the Moffat Era’s grave.)
March 2, 2020 @ 4:54 am
Sorry for barging in with some probably unearned optimism but Doctor Who has always felt like a show where the biggest mistakes it makes can yield some of the best moments later on, so I don’t think this is necessarily the end of the show.
March 2, 2020 @ 5:25 am
What has made this season so depressing for me is how unnecessary it was. I know series 11 was a serious step down in quality — the kind that happens when you kick Sarah Dollard, Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, and Catherine Tregenna to the curb and replace all their episodes with Chris Chibnall ones. But series 11, up through “It Takes You Away”, was still a weird, creative little show.
It was the kind of show that had beyond-the-universe spirits incarnating as baby frogs; had giant spiders defeated by the bass of a Stormzy song; had bloviating Jack-from-30-Rock-type businessmen mistaken for Ed Sheehan and then get confronted with toilet monsters. It also had beautifully real threats like Alabama policemen; carelessly-implemented British colonial policy; and your mom getting fired from a menial job for being in the wrong place when the boss is doing something embarrassing.
(It had the Doctor putting Amazon.com out of business for a month, too, which I still think doesn’t deserve to be as ignored as all that. “Kerblam!” was an interesting mess that said a lot of things about the world, most of them contradicting each other, and had the decency to put them in a tightly-constructed story.)
Series 11 had the Doctor reconnecting with her tinkerer-inventor roots, and confronted with the notion of maybe sometimes having good manners when confronted with ordinary people who deserve the benefit of them. And if most of the plots fell apart in the end, well, the later Tennant years had more than their share of those too. It felt like “Doctor Who” being run by the “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship” guy: underwhelming and semi-competent and not something I’d watch without a prior emotional investment, but also, varied and a good bet to be fun.
And then, starting with “Ranskoor”, Chibnall decided he was running a Very Serious Show full of Important Series Lore. And it’s been neither fun NOR worth taking seriously ever since. I hope the show is allowed to recover from him. And I hope it can.
March 2, 2020 @ 6:51 am
I don’t share your affection for S11 (and, sorry, I still hate Kerblam! with a passion beaten only by that I reserve for The Dominators), but that is a damn good take on its merits – the little strands of strangeness that have been increasingly ground into the dust as the Chibnall era has gone on.
For all that S12 is regarded as a step up over S11, it’s telling that its episode by the era’s best writer – Fugitive of the Judoon – is less straightforwardly good than Demons of the Punjab. Underneath the excitement of Ruth, FOTJ is missing the actually interesting bits of that story beyond its spectacle.
March 2, 2020 @ 7:34 am
Nothing in Series 12 is worthy of polishing Demons of the Punjab’s shoes.
I despised S11 but it had at least one properly good story, with clarity of purpose and an interesting point of view. S12 is the first NuWho season to lack even that.
March 2, 2020 @ 10:58 am
Yeah, I have to agree with that. Demons was a genuinely great episode, and the only one I think would be a highlight of any of the 10 previous seasons. I think S12 definitely has fewer active clunkers at only two (this episode and Orphan 55, whilst S11 had about 5), but it’s definitely shorter on actively good episodes. Can You Hear Me? is the highlight of the season for me, and though I liked it a lot more than most people, I do have to admit that it is a bit messy.
What else is there? Fugitive was a ride, but is disappointing now we know it’s all leading to this bullshit. Diodati was well-made but tripped face-forward into Great Man bullshit at the end. I think Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror might actually be the second-best episode of the season, just by being about as good as fucking Vampires of Venice.
I felt like I was more positive to S12 as it was airing, but I think that’s because I was a lot more hopeful about S11, and was actively disappointed by it. Here, my expectations were rock-bottom, and I found myself giving episodes points for stuff like “the Doctor has an emotion” or “it didn’t actively suck off Jeff Bezos”.
March 2, 2020 @ 12:31 pm
Before this final episode, I would have said my feelings about this season were “Shows signs of improvement, but still could do better.” I.e., if the next season were to be as much better as this season was than the last, then we would be getting somewhere.
But this episode – I’m not as hostile to it as our hostess, but that is a high bar to clear – this episode confirms for me a certain suspicion from Fugitive of the Judoon that Chibnall overcorrected – having written a drab, pointless finale last time, this time he went,”Clearly, what the people want is Lore, Mythology, and Significance, and by God that’s what I’m going to give them! Full speed ahead, and damn coherence and things being good ideas!”
Still, it didn’t kill off Yaz, and I was really afraid that it was going to when I heard Graham’s speech.
March 2, 2020 @ 3:09 pm
I do think that this was planned – to have a light introduction series, and then bring in more lore and a heavier arc. In theory, it’s a solid idea. It’s kind of what the RTD seasons did. Start with the basics – blue box, screwdriver, then bring in the Daleks, more info about the Time War, then the next season Cybermen and old companions, then the Master and then Davros and Sontarans… etc, etc.
As with most of what Chibnall does though, the execution was wildly misjudged. The first season was so “light” that is was completely disposable, and then the second season suddenly veers into a cavalcade of myth-arcs and secret origins and jerking off over the Shabogans and the Panopticon. The result is utterly incoherent.
March 2, 2020 @ 8:48 am
“It had the Doctor putting Amazon.com out of business for a month”
It had the Doctor PROTECTING Amazon.com from a revolution by its oppressed workforce. Unforgiveable.
March 2, 2020 @ 1:37 pm
“Demons of the Punjab” was a masterpiece. “Kerblam!” wasn’t. But it had Amazon as a dreadful , oppressive place to work, and had her blow it up for a month while it gave the workers two weeks’ pay for the month missed. It was anti-Amazon and in its careless moments pro-; there was no “workers’ revolution” and we all would have liked one. It wasn’t right-wing, it was incoherent, and maybe my 6th-favorite episode of a fairly weak season. But it landed more good subversive points, in its better moments, than anything in season 12 except the same wruter’s “Praxeus”.
March 3, 2020 @ 7:45 pm
I’ve been struggling to articulate why I prefer the aggressively mediocre season 11 to whatever this season was, and this is helpful – thanks.
March 2, 2020 @ 8:42 am
I don’t particularly want to be positive about such a colourless, ersatz story, but I do like that Chibbo has effectively restored Doctor Who to where it was in the pilot episode, when the Doctor was “eons and universes” away from home, and there was no cute promise to one day return. Obviously I lol along when people say things like “it was all downhill after that policeman in the first episode!” but there is a secret part of me that thinks the decision to remake the pilot, in the process making both the Doctor and Susan less alien and less unknowable, was the show’s first bit error. So it rather amuses me that we seem to be heading back that way.
March 2, 2020 @ 8:53 am
“Another time, another world” is more alien and unknowable than “the 47th century”. Although losing Susan’s ink blot moment was a shame.
March 2, 2020 @ 9:17 am
Yes, that’s the one line I’m glad got cut.
June 12, 2021 @ 12:15 pm
I get impression and think it’s underdiscussed, that Chibnall really wants to bring the series back to its roots in general, right to the Edutainment writing and three companions including a granfather-grandchild duo, but even as a genuine fan of Hartnell era, who would love them to make (on rare ocassion) pure historicals and bring back and reimagine Susan, I acknowledge that’s not necessarily a good idea.
March 2, 2020 @ 9:12 am
I don’t think the “twelve regenerations” line was about solving a plot problem, precisely, although it was still for story purposes rather than fanwank ones, obviously. I seem to remember the idea was to introduce uncertainty about whether the Doctor would regenerate if killed, with that combined with the Morbius Doctors, for general threat-increasing purposes. And then the Morbius Doctors could be easily forgotten about at actual regeneration time.
Doubt Holmes would have tried to claim that he was “revealing” something.
March 2, 2020 @ 9:23 am
The regen limit was introduced to give the Master motivation. He was suddenly on his last one and wanted more. Which is why it always amuses me when people treat it like a hard limit – Holmes obviously didn’t think of it as a hard limit when he came up with it, or there would have been no story in the first place.
March 2, 2020 @ 10:13 am
It does that too, but I’m sure I remember reading, perhaps in the 4th Doctor handbook back in the day, that the Morbius Doctors were done specifically with that in mind.
March 2, 2020 @ 9:30 am
I can’t fathom that this is what people want from Doctor Who. I also can’t believe that it’s gone from a bland but forward-looking version of the show to a parallel universe where Attack of the Cybermen and Arc of Infinity are classics in the space of one series! It’s bizarre and depressing.
Anyway, thank you El for your reviews this year. I don’t always agree with you, but I know you’ll cut through the hype and concisely, honestly and thoughtfully critique the episodes. It’s genuinely the most I get out of the current iteration of the show.
March 2, 2020 @ 12:42 pm
I think you make a very solid point with last season being “bland but forward-looking.” Or at any rate “flawed but forward-looking.”
I personally felt that it was, in principle, a good thing that Chibnall made the decision to do all-new stuff last season and deprive the show of recourse to easy familiarity. That was, for me, a move away from something of which I had grown less fond over time about the Moffat period. (I’m not as devoted to the Moffat era as people tend to be about here.)
But the thing is, having made that decision, one has to deliver by making all the new stuff good, and that’s where last season failed. Not all the time (Demons of the Punjab will always, I think, be on my list of Doctor Who’s best episodes) but far too often, and especially at the end: Tim Shaw was adequate at best as an antagonist for the opening episode, but nothing about him should have suggested suitability for being brought back at the end, aside from the fact that he was there at the beginning.
March 2, 2020 @ 10:15 am
I thought the Ruth Doctor put it well:
Doctor “Is it true?”
Ruth Doctor “Does it matter?”
It’s like the young earth creationists saying that God made the Earth look old to test our faith.
March 2, 2020 @ 10:58 am
Wow. You weren’t exaggerating. That was so boringly terrible. This just has nothing to do with what I like about Doctor Who, nothing to do with what I like about television, nothing to do with what I like about stories. Of course there won’t be an eruditorum for this era, how many pages can you get out of “This is bad in incredibly uninteresting ways”?
I rewatched Silver Nemesis on the weekend and had a far better time than I did here. How utterly bland this was. I might give the next series a miss, too.
March 2, 2020 @ 12:00 pm
Thanks for the reviews of this season Elizabeth. You suffered so I (and probably many others) didn’t have to.
This was the first season of Doctor Who, having watched since I was 4 back in 1980, that I couldn’t bring myself to watch, having been utterly depressed by season 11.
I still wanted to keep my ear to the ground Who-wise, and this website was one of a handful of sources which helped me do so.
Your reviews have probably been infinitely more entertaining than actually watching the wretched season – cheers!
March 2, 2020 @ 12:39 pm
“This is obviously going to be picked up on next season.”
My response to the Exciting Revelations was, “OK, but so what?” What does this mean? What stories can we tell with it?
Damn if I can think of anything.
Perhaps it might be possible to pick up on a connection between the many avatars of various gods in Hindu mythology? (My knowledge in that direction is pretty scattershot.) The idea of a pattern that recurs endlessly, much as each successive Doctor is a new expression of that pattern. idk, there might be something there?
There could be a story in the idea of the Doctor as not a very good person, working for the Division (I would just like to mention that I screamed internally at the mention of a secret organisation for investigating things, as I usually do), who decided to become a better person by starting themselves over from scratch.
But this is weak tea. It would take a better writer than me to make something of it. Even the half-human thing at least suggested some fun ideas.
The one good outcome is that continuity-obsessive fanboys are being reduced to their constituent fundamental particles by the sheer bloody audacity of it all. (If I derived my pleasure from the show from perfect knowledge of its continuity, I would be delighted at this fresh information and the challenge of integrating it, but that’s me.)
I’ve had half a (prescribed) Xanax and it makes me even more loquacious than normal.
Bring back the Looms, I say!
March 2, 2020 @ 2:38 pm
Unfortunately, Kate, when you ask “What stories can we tell with it?”, you’re thinking like a storyteller (which, of course, you are: one of Doctor Who’s greatest). Chris Chibnall has proven — first with “Ranskoor”, then with this — that his version of Doctor Who does not need “stories” as a prerequisite to filming. Of course this will be “picked up on”.
Which is why, like Elizabeth, I won’t be back. I hope the show lives long enough to be run by someone good again. I’m not optimistic, but I hope.
March 2, 2020 @ 7:33 pm
I suspect that next season we find out that the Doctor is actually from the race of otherdimensional alien spies in Spyfall. That would make it just so much worse.
Chibnall might follow up on whether the Division became the Celestial Invtervention Agency or if there are two organizations trying to do the same thing. But, as the Black Lectroid Commander said, “So what? Big deal.”
We probably get more with the Time Lord who wanted Doctor Ruth captured, at least during the holidays, and probably through the next season. Probably not getting Doctor Ruth except in flashbacks or mental images of the Doctor talking to herself like in this episode, which would be a shame. It would have been nice to have had a regeneration and get Doctor Ruth.
March 2, 2020 @ 8:09 pm
My fear is that Ruth is only the beginning. Multi-Doctor stories are hard to do since all the other Doctors are deceased, too old, or have moved on to other things. But now, there’s an /infinite/ number of Doctors for Whittaker to bump into! And based on Ruth’s easy familiarity with guns, I reckon quite a few of them are going to be awful people played by the special guest star of the week.
March 9, 2020 @ 6:28 am
Say what you like about Looms, at least they had an ethos.
March 2, 2020 @ 12:56 pm
Just wanted to expand on one of the points our hostess made:-
The whole placing the main character at the heart of the mythology is indeed something that the series has been better off rejecting. And it’s also not great for the logic of the plot of this episode.
The plot turns on the idea that this is a secret that the Time Lords had to suppress because it was unsuitable as a myth. But the very reasons why it’s a cliché that Chibnall fell into – the whole grandiosity that he’s relying on for its effect on the viewer – these are reasons why it would do the job of being a founding myth.
I mean, just how unimaginative was Tecteun if she couldn’t spin “A great hero went on a heroic quest of discovery and exploration, and lo! she returned with a miraculous child who gave to us the wondrous gift of life!” as legitimating myth for an aristocracy?
March 2, 2020 @ 2:05 pm
I’m not arguing that this was well executed (Jodie got sidelined in a story supposedly focused on the Doctor’s own history and once again failed to solve the problem or defeat any of the villains!), but it’s another step toward canonizing fanfiction, with potential room for an infinite number of past Doctor stories. Any plotline that has the future potential for something happening like “then Yaz steps through the gateway to an alternate universe, and returns as the Timeless Child” has at least a little goodness in it. I hear the Rise of Skywalker comparisons, but unlike that movie this episode opens up a whole lot of additional history to ambiguous scrutiny.
Why is it titled “The Timeless Children” and not “The Timeless Child”?
March 2, 2020 @ 2:35 pm
Charitably, bc the Doctor is vast, they contain multitudes. Uncharitably: bc Chibnall needed more “oh shit” factor so he escalated from singular to plural.
June 12, 2021 @ 12:23 pm
In a franchise where the expanded universe is so vast and treated with fair amount of weight, that includes parallel universes, do you really need to validate fanfiction any more than it already is?
March 2, 2020 @ 2:45 pm
So real talk, which has the more spectacularly uncomfortable implications? The Doctor tricking the first non-white Master into a Nazi concentration camp? Or the same Doctor asserting to the same Master that her genetic origins “make [her] better”?
March 2, 2020 @ 3:22 pm
Absolutely agree. Will most likely not care from this day forward.
Last season was horrible, I put it on cast.
This season was better, but cast still in the way.
Cyberman episode was good and story intriguing, until it unraveled with Master showing up and then the Galifrey story.
March 2, 2020 @ 4:11 pm
Well said . Spot on ! The Division is such a route one terrible idea too! I hope the lie about the timeless child is the masters lie . Retcon is possible …maybe next years mission is to find the Retcon particle ?
March 2, 2020 @ 7:36 pm
It will be the job of the showrunner after Chibnall to find the Retcon Particle.
March 2, 2020 @ 5:25 pm
I skipped the series and checked out the last episode to familiarise myself with the so-called ‘game-changing’ revelations. It was all such moribund drivel that I couldn’t be bothered to accept any of it.
The disdain with which I regard everyone involved in S11&S12 is immense. I suppose it’s not so different from how others felt about the Moffat era in the past. But the comparison would be so unfair. Moffat’s imagination, wit, conceptual cleverness and obvious immersion in the kind of story-making that he loves comes through in all his best Doctor Who stories. This cynical iteration of the series exists purely to continue to sell the “iconic status” of the brand. There is nothing else going on whatsoever.
March 2, 2020 @ 5:32 pm
Next season, Bobbie Ewing is found alive in the shower and It Was All A Dream.
For the program’s 70th anniversary, Lance Parkin will amend “The Infinity Doctors” into “The Aleph-1 Doctors” and insist it’s all true, with the possible exception of the Custard Cream dispenser.
March 2, 2020 @ 6:04 pm
I’ve often found the density of Doctor Who’s Gallifreyan lore to be the worst part of the show. I just can’t bring myself to care about what happened to/on/with Gallifrey, or what’s going on with the Time Lords. I’ve seen people whooping for joy because this is undoing the canon or something to that effect, which I’d contest it isn’t so much as all that canon now comes with a House Of Leaves nest of footnotes containing more delicious canon about why that canon was in fact not the canon. A quadratic equation of canon. I suppose I’ll keep watching because I’m bad at letting go. Maybe time to finally write that fanfic idea where the Doctor’s next incarnation is Grace Jones
March 2, 2020 @ 8:01 pm
I’d read that!
March 4, 2020 @ 9:18 am
I have to admit any time I see someone “whooping for joy because this is undoing the canon or something to that effect,” I now go “ok I’m done with this show.” You can expand canon, you can reveal new hidden lore if your careful and do it well. But there are for too many who seem to feel destroying established canon is good for the sake of destroying established canon. You NEED canon especially in a long running series because it builds a world, it creates a framework and consequences to actions. Destroy canon and 9 out of 10 times you’ll probably destroy the show. Look at what’s happening with starwars, star trek, dr who, possibly James Bond.
Its the show equivilent of “Oh gravity is just a theory look as I throw this car off a building onto the crowded street below. . . oh, oh um, well its the fault of those people down there. They weren’t enlightened enough to understand that disbileiving in gravity is a good thing. Which is . . . ohhh why the car landed on them. Perhaps when I throw one off tommorow they will be more enlightened and join me in a world free of gravity.”
March 6, 2020 @ 9:56 pm
That is a point I keep making. “Canon” and “continuity” are just ways of saying “narrative consistency” is a series. In a novel or single film no one would say it is good to have an inconsistent narrative, so why is it a virtue to introduce narrative inconsistency in a serial format?
March 7, 2020 @ 4:22 am
Hello, Mr S. 🙂
I’m not one to go about defending The Chib’s writing decisions willy-nilly: I’m entirely open about the fact that I don’t think he’s the right fit for the job, he seems to have a right-wing mentality, bringing far too much gun and far too little frock to the game. He needs a showrunner editing him into the right shape, not the other way round.
That said, there is every reason to defend well-intentioned attempts to bring change to a narrative superstructure that’s been going so long and been written so extensively that it actively chills writers away from exploring new ideas and new ways of looking at the world.
I’m of the view that canon is something that should enhance a work being created, not act as an inescapable straightjacket for writers – and while it’s always good for viewers to be familiar with a show, no series’ overarching text should be so impenetrably dense that viewers need to revisit a Bible’s-worth of backstory to truly understand what’s going on.
In the case of Doctor Who, it’s even more needed, where the underlying premise is inherently more fantastic than scientific – and where canon has already contradicted itself so many times in the past that even The Moff felt the need to lampshade the intensive incoherency in one of his Cybermen episodes.
Then there’s the time war.
It seems to me that – by it’s very nature – a time war isn’t something that you can live through and then it’s past for you. A time war is a conflict between two forces doing all they can to undermine each other’s past, present and future existence. Once you’re in it, you’re in it for all of your life, beginning to end – otherwise, what’s it good for, narratively, other than providing a slightly more florid backdrop?
As soon as he or she got involved, the Doctor’s entire personal history became something that should have become subject to serious, ongoing change. I can see why writers would shy away from something so complex and difficult to express to viewers, but it is what should have happened, I think.
While I’ve no intention of defending what is clearly a broken episode, not all of it’s ideas are bad ones. To my mind, changing the game’s a good thing, regardless of the headaches we all end up with. 🙂
March 11, 2020 @ 9:57 am
Individual Doctor Who stories are serials when they have more than one episode, but Doctor Who as a whole isn’t.
Narrative inconsistency can even be a useful tool in things which are written by a single person. It doesn’t happen very often because the assumption of a consistent narrative is a very powerful storytelling tool which most stories like to rely upon, but if a story doesn’t need to do that, it’s useful for things like drawing attention to the fictional nature of things, matching the way that truth in the real world is very often unknowable and the convention of the omniscient narrator isn’t very realistic, representing a multiple-perspective understanding of the world, or just humour.
It’s naturally attractive to the left because right-wing politics can be described as a false grand narrative from on high which justifies the holding of power and the majority of wealth by the ruling class, while left-wing politics finds all the holes and inconsistencies in this narrative. So left-wingers are naturally disinclined to want grand narratives from on high to be ‘true’.
April 12, 2020 @ 5:36 pm
I would argue there is narrative inconsistency and narrative inconsistency. As you say, in some cases it is a useful tool. Turn of the Screw type unreliability can work well in a story. At other times, violating your established rules simply yanks the reader out of the story. (I suppose you may even want to do that, as in, say, At Swim-Two-Birds, where the artificiality of the tale is the point.) But in most cases, the first is a viable approach, while the second is not. To have your protagonist described as a middle aged hot dog vendor, only to have him acting as an elderly female president in the second chapter, and a flying teenage girl in the third is likely to engender confusion at best, frustration at worst.
I suppose it all depends on how reliable the source of information is. If your entire tale is based upon an unreliable narrator, then obviously you can play games with such things. But if you establish some level of reliable information (which is what canon would presumably be), then to break it one needs at least some means of papering over the change. (Obviously, the smaller the change, the less relevant — except to the most obsessive readers — but major changes of facts established as reliable can harm the tale.)
March 2, 2020 @ 8:16 pm
Four (4)! That’s how many times I actually shouted “WHAT THE FUCKING HELL IS THIS!” at my TV last night.
My own head canon (and I’m sticking with it) is that Sasha Dewan isn’t playing the Master at all. He’s playing the Meddling Monk. And the /entirety/ of Series 12 has been one elaborate practical joke on the Doctor.
The worst part? I just happened to rewatch Day of the Doctor the day before Timeless Children, and so I had the mental image of the Doctor’s joy at having saved all those Gallifreyan children in my head when the Master gloated at killing every single one of them and then fridging their bodies for … ugh, CyberMasters.
March 2, 2020 @ 8:19 pm
I almost forgot the other worst part! The way this episode shits on the entirety of Capaldi’s last season! So what was the ultimate result of 12’s decision to spare Missy’s life and commit himself to decades or even centuries of trying to rehabilitate her? A rehabilitation that actually /worked/?
She regenerates into a psychotic loon who commits genocide against the Doctor’s people.
March 2, 2020 @ 9:00 pm
I think I may be the first to take a cautious step here and say that while I can’t say I liked the episode, my feelings about the revealed information are…positive.
The least contentious (I think) bit first: that the Time Lords acquired their power by exploiting the limitless potential of a child’s life is, on paper, one of the most resonant things you can reveal about the Time Lords. How does the stuffiest, most bureaucratic civilization in the universe sustain itself through this magical, reinventive process that they could never have imagined on their own? Because they powered it off a child, of course. It’s the basic structure of Doctor Who itself reconstituted as backstory: a dull political institution given life by a child’s imagination.
As for the Doctory bits:
You say the episode places the Doctor at the center of the mythology. True. And yet no more so than the show has already done, in my opinion. The Smith years’ mythology centers entirely around the Doctor, and in a far more detailed way than this did – the trap, the assassination attempt, River Song, the Silence, the crack, his name – the answer to every mythical question the show posed then led inevitably back to the Doctor. Try as I might I just can’t see this revelation as demonstrating the same degree of self-involvement that those seasons did. After all the Moffat years present the Doctor as the creator of the Time Lords, too – the recreator, reconstituting a civilization from oblivion, a war hero and savior explicitly revered so much that he can topple them without a word.
You write that the Doctor now has “magical powers above and beyond other Time Lords”. Also true. And yet that’s always been true. The Doctor was always an oddity and a renegade, a wanderer who hailed from a people that were fixed in place. You wrote as much in your piece on The Deadly Assassin. (You also raise the idea that the Doctor’s mythology is more central to the universe of the show than Gallifrey’s.) One can take issue with the literalizing being done here, of course, but in practical terms, the Doctor doesn’t have anything that she didn’t already implicitly have – Moffat himself already raised the possibility that the Doctor was fully immortal.
To be honest, I think it’s an almost Holmesian move. Holmes’s villains were often people of grand backstories who devolved into mediocrity and resorted to cruelty to regain their place. Why not, then, a hero who was also once a mythical figure but responds to his fall from grace by embracing it and becoming kind?
The Doctor is no longer “the schlubby mediocrity who ran away”? Why not? The Doctor is a healing, reparative figure who once committed mass murder on a cosmic scale. Why can’t she also be a mediocre nobody who was once the basis for an entire civilization? Is it really so much worse to imagine our central character, not as a Victorian explorer of half-hearted privilege, but as a lost child who ran from the society that was powered on her suffering and her imagination?
And I mean it’s not like this is likely to change the Doctor’s personality in the long run. She’s been a mythic figure before and has always found a way to shrug it off. The events of The Three Doctors were forgotten. Xoanon was reprogrammed. His gave notice on his job as the White Guardian’s agent. The Other passed into fan folklore. The title of Time’s Champion was left behind. He erased himself from Earth’s history. He undid his destruction of Gallifrey. The Doctor is always running away from being some sort of grand mythical figure, yes, but to do that they have to find themselves in the position of being a grand mythical figure in the first place, if only for a while.
As far as I can tell this is not a special restructuring of Doctor Who’s universe around the Doctor. It’s a restructuring of the universe away from the Time Lords. It’s a solution to the paradox that Gallifrey is simultaneously very important to the Doctor’s character and rather dull: decide that it isn’t very important after all and move on.
I’ve gradually come around to the idea that the Chibnall years have some value as a sort of chaotic breeding-ground for things better writers can play with later. And look what this reveal gives us. A great, irrevocable cracking-open of the idea that the Doctor can be anyone and that anyone can be the Doctor. An entirely fresh slate to play with the Doctor’s history that isn’t just “Gallifrey” or “The Time War”.
Personally I feel invigorated by that idea.
Shame the episode sucked though, eh?
March 2, 2020 @ 10:48 pm
“The Smith years’ mythology centers entirely around the Doctor, and in a far more detailed way than this did – the trap, the assassination attempt, River Song, the Silence, the crack, his name – the answer to every mythical question the show posed then led inevitably back to the Doctor. Try as I might I just can’t see this revelation as demonstrating the same degree of self-involvement that those seasons did.”
This is my thoughts. I like the Capaldi years a lot, but functionally this is at most a continuation of existing trends from the end of RTD onward. I’d go as far as to say that The Timeless Child is actually less obnoxious than the Smith era, which defined the Doctor as the soul important thing in the universe.
The simple solution to this is to establish where the Doctor came from, and put something greater than her on the other side. She’s not the greatest Time Lord, which they have been since Tom Baker at least. She’s the little lost outcast from another dimension. Basically the same trick RTD did where the Doctor might be the survivor of the Time War, but there was some stuff in the Time War that is implied to frighten the Doctor, the Master, and Rassilon.
Also, bizarrely, Rassilon is now the only surviving Time Lord due to his exile from Hell Bent. That’s interesting as a potential way to keep another go round.
I don’t think the episode is great, but also, it doesn’t need retconning, it just needs expanding. In fact my solution is to have the Breech be a source of threats, have the Daleks be threats, and maybe establish a new Highest Authority. A Shadow Proclamation or the White and Black Guardians to dismiss the Doctor.
March 2, 2020 @ 10:57 pm
The big difference is that the Moffat era centered the story around the Doctor, whereas this is centering the universe around them. Sure, there’s a big bonkers conspiracy stretching across time and intersecting with the Doctor’s life non-linearly, but it’s still one story. It’s not the history of the Time Lords and the overarching lore of the series.
I agree that Moffat’s “the Doctor is the reason good triumphs over evil in the universe” instincts are his worst ones, but he had the sense to be conflicted about them and alternate between indulging them and reining them in.
March 2, 2020 @ 11:10 pm
I would say though that it was the lore of the show from 2010 to 2013, the same way that the Guardians are the show’s lore for a lot of the 4th and 5th Doctor, or the “Masterplan”, or “Vague Ramblings”, were for the 7th Doctor.
On the other hand, I went over your Sometime Never post and couldn’t help but realize it was tailor made to this episode. I don’t think it had the right instincts in a lot of ways, and I wouldn’t choose to have this be my Doctor Who.
But at the same time, this feels a bit like reacting to The Deadly Assassin by saying “We’ve gone from the Doctor being less powerful than the Time Lords to being accidentally President of them, and saving them. The show has collapsed into itself.” The show is probably going to survive if it takes this and uses it to create a Doctor that isn’t super-powerful. But that’s on later writers. The Doctor still needs to have become the Doctor with Hartnell of course, and that brings me to my major issue.
Seriously, the Ruth Doctor stuff is terrible and needs an incredibly complex retcon in a novel or something. Jo Martin is good, but she shouldn’t be a pre-Hartnell Doctor. Can we make her a regenerated Susan who has taken up her Grandfather’s Legacy and assumed they are dead because of the events of the War Games or something.
March 2, 2020 @ 11:54 pm
Yes, admittedly the centering is happening on a greater scale in-universe, but the logic underlying Doctor Who’s universe is already so chaotic that I just don’t factor it into my enjoyment of the show.
Doctor Who operates first and foremost on the personal scale, and so how the universe is said to work matters a great deal less to me than how the stories themselves move around the character.
What it boils down to for me is that Whittaker’s Doctor, in spite of her on-paper Chosen One origin story, still spends her day-to-day existence thoroughly not bothered about who she is, where she comes from, what her name is, where she’s buried, et cetera, and so in practice lacks the worst aspects of the Chosen One archetype, while Smith’s, in spite of having the regular “mediocre Time Lord” backstory, seems to be constantly fussing over his dark past, his prophesied future, how he chose his name as a sacred promise, fulfilling his “title” like it’s a job, grappling with his own legend, and so acts more like a self-involved Chosen One – albeit, as you say, with a degree of ambivalence.
Of course, if we get Whittaker next season repeatedly wielding “I’m the Timeless Child” like some badass threat, or if the whole season is about her going on some arduous quest to discover everything about her backstory, I’m going to hate it. (And I don’t necessarily trust Chibnall not to go down that road.) But I also can’t see this as a uniquely egregious example of Doctor Who writing a mythological check it doesn’t quite cash.
You’ve pointed out many times that one of the defining traits of Doctor Who is that it’s a story that never has to end. The Timeless Children, in spite of its actual storytelling, establishes that Doctor Who as a story never has to begin, either. The Doctor must die on Trenzalore, but Doctor Who needn’t end there; the Doctor came from Gallifrey, but Doctor Who needn’t begin there.
That’s ultimately why my feelings on the reveal tend to the positive rather than defaulting to “it’ll be soft-retconned in a few years anyway”. In the long run it’s opening up the possibility of a Doctor Who that isn’t defined by the same iconography, and I can’t not find that exciting.
March 3, 2020 @ 5:51 am
My fear is that at some point, it will come out that Rassilon is just Tecnet (or whatever her name was) who changed her name at some point so that no one would realize she had unlimited regenerations too.
March 2, 2020 @ 9:23 pm
Ruth must still be post Hartnell since she calls herself The Doctor riiiiight?
I’d be more upset by the revelation that the Doctor went by the name The Doctor before leaving Gallifrey than anything to do with timeless children.
Maybe it’s her Division secret codename.
March 2, 2020 @ 9:45 pm
I didn’t even mind some of the ideas at play here- the cyber time lords, in the hands of an actual writer, could have been really fun and perverse. The concept of the time lords stealing regeneration from a refugee child- the basic shape of that could really work. But the Chosen One bullshit, the specificity of how it’s told, the lack of an actual story or drama, it all added up to one of the worst stories the show has ever done. Probably the worst.
March 2, 2020 @ 10:25 pm
I’m with you – the shape of thing isn’t per se a problem. Of course the Time Lords got their abilities off the back of exploitation. This is the civilisation that abandoned the guy who gave them time travel to an eternity in a nether world and who merrily dragged a planet across space on the off chance some of their secrets leaked out. There is a story to tell there, reckoning with that.
But making the Doctor the exploited one, apart from the cringy inherent Extra Specialness it brings, feels to me like a dodge. I know there are people who find this revelation affirming, a way of bringing in ideas about colonisation and the exploitation of one group of people for the enrichment of others – and it does, and I’m happy they can read it that way. But by pinning all of this on the Doctor, it retroactively excuses them of all the snobbishness and elitism from which they have benefited for as long as we’ve been watching the show. The Doctor no longer has to be the one reckoning with that past, choosing to be better than their people. They get a pass for the kind of rubbish that e.g. 3, 4 and 6 were fond of pulling when it comes to looking down on their ‘lessers’. They are absolved of the crimes of the Time Lords, from which they materially benefited. And – to stretch a point – outside the text, it no longer matters that we haven’t yet had a non-white actor cast as the lead because, look! The Doctor used to be all these different people!
I’m probably being terrible cynical and this could get engaged with in a satisfying way yet, but two Chibnall-run seasons have made me expect that dodging around the issue is far more likely.
March 3, 2020 @ 8:42 pm
I’m inclined to agree with a lot of this — that the Timeless Child stuff would be fine if the Doctor were not the Timeless Child. But I think there is a snag: if you don’t have that (generally not good*) detail, this Revelation of a Dark, Dark Secret has no particular impact. Of course the Time Lords did something like that, just as you say.
Plus, there’s an execution problem in that the story doesn’t actually seem all that bothered by the exploitation. There is, obviously, a lot implied in “The child regenerated many times,” but that’s the only line that really speaks to it, and it’s basically something that serves as a quick transition to the next stage of the story that the Doctor is being told. Obviously, that reticence probably reflects concern for the children in the viewing audience, but if you can’t exploit the horror of “parent murders her child over and over again in hopes of escaping her own mortality” at all, well, you’re leaving some low-hanging fruit on the tree.
*Generally not good, but… am I a horrible person if I admit that I do sort of like that that the Master destroys his whole planet in frustration at discovering that he’s a secondary character who only exists to serve the Doctor’s story? I am such a sucker for that sort of thing. Same way that I rather liked that the Master’s response to Ashad’s Death Particle plan was to point out that it was anticlimactic and boring. If only Chibnall had had the guts to leave it there, and just have the Doctor pick up tiny Ashad in passing at the end, and say something like, “Lucky I spotted that! Not good to leave a Death Particle lying around.”
March 3, 2020 @ 10:25 pm
Well quite. I’m generally of the opinion that if you want to shake things up and do something different, cramming in a Deadly Genesis (copyright Marvel comics who just love pulling similar stunts) for the Time Lords is never actually going to serve that function in any interesting fashion. I still think there’s the gleanings of a plot in it, but it needs to land the impact in some way that isn’t uninspiringly bog-standard. Dratted if I know how to manage that.
At the very least it would require having some Cardinal or other present to mount the establishment defence, which now I think about it is another way in which this whole farago lacked any kind of drama. Everyone’s dead so there’s no one to take to task for it all!
Anyway, I don’t think you’re a horrible person for enjoying the Master’s reaction (I generally didn’t, but I’m not going to argue it doesn’t work) – but the thought did occur to me today that things would have been a heck of a lot more interesting if he’d followed up on Missy’s characterisation and destroyed the Time Lords because they hurt his best friend. I’m not sure that would have been a great way of handling the apparently requisite Shocking Revelations since it potentially sets the Doctor up as having to argue that demolishing Time Lord civilisation wasn’t warranted, but I do rather enjoy the idea of this Master eagerly explaining that the Doctor should be happy he’s lashing out on her behalf.
Alas, I fear, this image would require a Doctor written to actually, you know, stand up for stuff and argue a proper moral position.
(I too enjoyed the Master’s notes on Ashad’s plan and agree entirely that a Death Particle is not a plot device to be treated seriously.)
howard david ingham
March 2, 2020 @ 11:53 pm
Hard agree with this, even to the extent that the sheer stupidity of the Cyber Time Lords would have been a crushing facepalm in most bad episodes, and here, rightly doesn’t even warrant a mention.
For me, the worst ting of all was this: my 11 year old son, who loves Doctor Who, for the first time ever, threw up his hands and said, “That’s just stupid.” This is the first season of new or old Doctor Who that’s had episodes even he hated. And that’s so very depressing.
March 3, 2020 @ 12:28 am
The Cyber-Time Lords work only if you assume the Master is deliberately trying to mock both the Cybermen and the Time Lords. I’m not sure that’s what the show is going for.
But as someone who loves stupid Doctor Who, I did love how stupid they were.
Paul F Cockburn
March 3, 2020 @ 12:25 am
So, the Doctor, apparently, has been working for a “secretive” interfering-in-the-affairs-of-the-universe organisation of Time Lords and, afterwards, has their memories wiped. Repeatedly. Surprised no one here has picked up on… That’s essentially the plot of Terrance Dicks’ final Doctor Who story in The Target Storybook. And at least he had the decency to fit it into the post-War Games “Season 6b”. And, of course, do it better.
March 3, 2020 @ 12:27 am
My wife (long standing casual viewer) commented tonight that she had read today that the episode had resolved a 40 year old argument about Doctor Who continuity, so I’m guessing that’s how the episode has been spun after broadcast. Her next comment was “Have you noticed that I’ve stopped watching?”
March 3, 2020 @ 10:18 am
My issue with the plot twists is that, for lore-breaking game changers, they barely change anything.
So it turns out that one of the canonically corrupt race of inhuman space bastards once experimented on one child and have been playing silly buggers with the Matrix. It’s hard to be surprised: the Rani’s done worse than Tecteun and the Matrix stuff is just “Trial of a Time Lord” again. So nothing changes our conception of them.
Meanwhile the Doctor is a figure with a murky past and tons of incarnations running around space. Like she’s always been. The only difference is that she’s not a Time Lord anymore, only given that the entirety Time Lord species is based on her, she still sorta is. (Indeed, it turns out the Last of the Time Lords is the First of the Time Lords.) The only real thing left to do from a narrative point of view is show some members of her new race, give them a name and then they’ll just be Time Lords with a different nomicker for the rest of the show.
So the never-before-seen reveal of massive changes to Doctor Who lore is just stuff we’ve already seen given a new name, none of which really changes anything about how the show works from week-to-week. If you’re going to have one episode dedicated to rewriting the show’s canon, at least have the nerve to entirely wreck it. Instead, what we’ve got here feels like disappointingly small potatoes.
March 4, 2020 @ 8:05 am
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March 4, 2020 @ 2:29 pm
I do think the single best observation made about this episode I have seen was (paraphrased): They turned the Doctor from Batman into Superman overnight.
Neither of those are bad models, of course. But I do think that if you’d signed up for one, you’d feel cheated to be presented with the other.
June 12, 2021 @ 12:49 pm
If you indulge my nerdery (to be clear, I dislike the reveal for all the reasons the reveiw and others have said), I don’t get that observation?
Batman: A child born of special background, suffers a terrible tragedy that forever defines their life, decides to dedicate it to a single purpose and makes himself a hero to fight evil. Superman: A refugee from alien world, no different than any other (ignoring very specific and divisive takes of Man of Steel 1987/2013) sent to Earth, where by virtue of happening to be there, grows to become a hero and a universal legend, by really just being who they are.
Neither model really fits the Doctor, but it seems to me if anything, the Timeless Child retcon makes them closer to the former.
March 5, 2020 @ 4:49 am
long time lurker first time commenter who’s ready to walk away and not come back after this finale. obviously it’s disspiriting, clumsy, dull, the show eating itself, marvel-fication of the main character, and so on…
But there was a moment where I thought the exposition with Tecteun and “the child” was going to take a more sinister turn which could have done an immense amount to cure the deficiencies with the arc and the character development this season.
Basically, I thought “a-ha!” – that Tecteun’s obsession with the regenerating child was going to turn obsessive and exploitative (and really, running test after test on a child for decades is super-sinister and a beat that Chibnall seems to have negative empathy for). Simply put, the regenerative secrets of the Time Lords, and all that they enabled, would be built on the merciless extraction and exploitation of another life form.
That in turn catalyses the Master and the Doctor this season – I personally love the idea, if it’s not too much of a trope post-Joker, of the former as self-righteously destructive when he learns of his origins (these people were frauds and hypocrites, and they deserved to burn) and the latter, having railed against parasitic theft of technology earlier this season and the colonial spoil of empire on and off across her lives, suddenly faced with being a benefactor of it.
IMO, this could have recast the Doc in a troubling (and relevant) light – plenty of people have decided to remold themselves as activists, intrepid travellers, flaneurs and eccentrics, to cut loose of the conformity of their own societies. But that’s the same as rejecting it outright, and certainly not the same as atoning for its extractive and genocidal origins they continue to benefit from.
So it posits a more interesting “I’m not who I thought I was!” that goes to the heart of her character, especially if (given how capable we know the Doctor is) there’s a suggestion she’s resisted or been willfully blind to investigating the origins of her people, knowing that doing something about it could undo a life of adventure and heroism. It also puts her into (good, dramatic!) conflict with her co-stars, who could quite rightly object to how she’s happy to lecture on the sins of oppression on Earth but silent on the past on her own world. YMMV about seeing the Doctor morally fallible on something like this – personally, I’d rather see her navigating a sci-fi analogy to our times than lecturing on our own past.
What trying to right the wrongs would then look like I don’t know, but it would have given her the same sort of fresh impetus for the character we saw in Rose and after Day of The Doctor – a constructive, compassionate alternative to the Master’s rage. Fuck, failing that, if things had ended here – if the Doctor elects to remain imprisoned in the Matrix so a wanderer in space and time her ancestors stole from and trapped could be free – would have been as good a capstone on this iteration.
Anyway, that’s not what happened, and I’ve never undertaken a significant creative writing or screenplay project. But I’m unbelievably annoyed that I can still construct a better explanation for The Timeless Child that would give the show a much-needed dramatic impetus than Chris Chibnall.
March 5, 2020 @ 8:26 am
“there was a moment where I thought the exposition with Tecteun and “the child” was going to take a more sinister turn”
What strikes me is that there seems to be almost no discussion of how sinister it IS.
Tecteun studies how the child regenerates. But how?Think about how that works for a second – she keeps KILLING a CHILD because of the trick it can do when it dies. Does it get more sinister than that? I mean – they don’t say it outright, but it’s the inescapable implication. Tecteun keeps killing the kid. And at that point she can have no idea whether the child has a limited number of times they can do this trick. What if the TC could indeed only regenerate 12 times?
March 18, 2020 @ 11:59 pm
Precisely how sinister it is is actually what made the finale resonate with one viewer: https://doctorofcolor.tumblr.com/post/612767048411611136/white-entitlement-and-doctor-who-aka-why-i-like
“Everything about this story connected with me. It connected with my family, with my ancestors, and with the knowledge I have of what other people of color have gone through. […] Here I was, feeling connected to this character as a person of color for the first time in its entire 50 year run and other people were treating this as universally and inherently bad. They were calling the Doctor’s history of abuse and memory loss, things that happen to children in real life, “special”. […] This story was clearly created to be something more people of color could relate to than white viewers. To put them front and center for the first time in a show that is half a century long.”
March 5, 2020 @ 10:29 am
IDGAF about the lore but i was bothered by the Doctor’s actions in the confrontation with the Master. How she backed down when the risk was that she might die, but cheerfully allowed the side character to sacrifice himself. What happened to never cowardly?
Also bugged by the sheer lack of effort on the Doctor’s part to rescue her fam from an army of Cybermen. Or that she even had the energy to freak out over lore when her Yaz, Ryan and Graham were in danger.
I actually really wanted the episode to end with the Master being all “You won’t do it, you don’t have the guts to do it” and the Doctor just grins and activates the detonator and the credits roll. I mean idk how they’d write themselves out of that one but it would have been braver.
Ah well, it was fun while it lasted. Thanks, Dr. Sandifer, for sharing your thoughts on this series with us. If you do decide this is the point where you call it a day, i don’t imagine anyone will hold it against you.
March 5, 2020 @ 10:44 am
Yazwatch 2020: Was Yasmin a real character?
Spyfall Part One: No
Spyfall Part Two: No
Orphan 55: No
Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror: Yes
Fugitive of the Judoon: No
Can You Hear Me: Yes
The Haunting of Villa Diodati: No
Ascension of the Cybermen: No
The Timeless Child: No
I laughed and laughed when Graham talked about how Yasmin was the best
March 6, 2020 @ 9:21 pm
What is amusing is that everyone I have seen defending this lore brings up the Brain of Morbius “regenerations” to justify it. However, in the Brain of Morbius there is also the lore about the Pythia and the Time Lords BEFORE they had regeneration, which this contradicts pretty seriously. I mean this messes us tons of other episodes as well (Listen, for example, and the Sound of Drums, if we look only at the new series), but the fact the primary justification comes from an episode that it contradicts is a pretty large problem. And that ignores just how dull and fan-ficy the who thing is.
March 6, 2020 @ 10:05 pm
That last line should read “whole thing is”, but it is kind of an amusing typo.
March 6, 2020 @ 11:17 pm
It’s funny how people can get very selectively fixated on parts of Dr Who lore. Some people seemed genuinely bothered that the Doctor was approaching the end of his 13th body a few years ago, completely overlooking that The Deadly Assassin introduced this particular piece of lore only to throw it out the window by the end of epsiode 4 when the Master is shown to have survived and possibly be regenerating.
And yes if the best argument for the Timeless Child is that it resolves a minor continuity quibble from Brain Of Morbius then that doesn’t say very much.
March 7, 2020 @ 7:08 am
It’s worse than that; the show itself saw fit to flash up the Morbius Doctors during that (truly horrific) fanwank slideshow in the Matrix, as if that somehow lent it all legitimacy, or as if it was solving some profound mystery rather than pettily awarding victory in a decades-old anorak squabble.
Everything RTD and Moffat did to try and reinvest Doctor Who with relevance and longevity has fallen to pieces. They were determined not to let it become an insular, navel-gazing, lore-fetishising, neverending Content Ouroboros incapable of speaking any language but that of the diehard consumer. But now we have the Morbius Doctors clip actually being shown on screen in a series finale, and infinite Doctors we’re supposed to care about just because they’re from the past instead of the future.
Levineism has won. Which is ironic, given that Levine hated the episode. But there’s a whole new generation of Levines out there.
April 12, 2020 @ 6:26 pm
I think the biggest problem is there really was no narrative need for this. I think most viewers, outside of die hard continuity tyrants, will accept changes to canon if they work with the narrative. The additional regenerations given to Matt Smith, for example, didn’t seem to raise too many hackles outside of the usual suspects. It broke canon, but it worked as part of the narrative. The many forms Gallifrey has taken over the years, for the most part, passed below the radar of most viewers. The incredibly incoherent social structure of the Time Lords has been largely ignored. All because these changes (or additions or deletions) all worked within the context of the story.
But this story seems to exist solely for the purpose of rewriting continuity, and when that happens, by drawing attention to canon specifically, it is inevitable it will be compared to prior stories and inconsistencies raised. If it had grown organically out of a given story, it probably would have received a lot less criticism, but, as it seems the story exists to make this point, not the other way around, it is a magnet for criticism. (Not that a change like this, being so cliched and fan-fic-like would have passed with no comment, but probably would have been less divisive if the story worked as a story.)
June 12, 2021 @ 1:28 pm
How did the additional regenerations break the canon at all? Master renewing his regeneration cycle has been his motivation in multiple stories (and it’s how it was possible for him to appear on the revival show in the first place) and I’m pretty sure they straight up said the limit is actually neforced and they could go on forever if they really wanted to.
March 8, 2020 @ 1:05 am
Bit late in the day here but would like to express agreement.
Also an observation: this was a history of the time lords in which TARDISes (and with them, time travel) seemed deprecated to the point of absence. I think there have been times in the past where a connection between regeneration and the TARDIS was suggested; they are completely decoupled now.
Moreover, that line of thinking that various writers (e.g Gaiman) have played with wherein the TARDISes have a kind of sapience, are perhaps even the primary (natural?) lifeform while their pilots are the auxiliary (domesticated? co-evolved? even artificial?) one seems to be killed dead by all this. There doesn’t seem to be any room in this new history for that – Timeships are just a technology.
The funniest part is the way “Timelords sans TARDISes” carried over into the main story though. The Master goes to the trouble of taking Gallifrey and creating an army of Cyber-Timelords… which he then loads onto a conventional troop carrier. That gets blown up.
Surely the whole point of converting the timelords would be to then send them out in War TARDISes across time and space !?
March 8, 2020 @ 9:06 am
Hello rg1. 🙂
Interesting. I agree that the occasionally-indicated – yet sadly under-explored – interaction between TARDISes and regeneration seems to be gone. To be fair, though, it really only seems to have been hinted at by the show and certainly doesn’t seem like a necessity on any given narrative level.
“[…] wherein the TARDISes have a kind of sapience, are perhaps even the primary (natural?) lifeform while their pilots are the auxiliary […]”
Lovely idea! I’ve not read the show that way, but it’s certainly an entertaining thought. Thinking about it, I can’t see an obvious reason why the Timeless Child can’t have been created by a (past or future) self-motivated TARDIS (or even another party) and sent through the mysterious gateway specifically for Tecteun to find in the first place.
Given their long and outrageous history, having the Time Lords created from a bootstrap paradox by their own TARDISes would be a perfectly sweet icing added to their already very hefty hypocrisy cake.
Given the curious lack of TARDIS discussion in the episode, it might be that The Chib has some plans in this direction already – although I’ve long since given up trying to make any firm prediction as to what the half-daft sod will actually do next.
“[…] an army of Cyber-Timelords… which he then loads onto a conventional troop carrier. That gets blown up.”
I read that as an entirely intentionally-obvious feint by both Chibnall and the Master – one leaving plenty of room for the Cybermasters to be completely ignored or resurrected by future writers, as they choose. Certainly, the Master will return – no reason for the Cybermasters not to do so as well. 🙂
March 9, 2020 @ 2:55 pm
And another thing…
TARDISes are sapient, not just a piece of technology. Surely at this point that is past discussion.
So the Doc just steals one (a working one, that not only goes precisely where/when she orders it to, but for an encore disguises itself perfectly when it gets there) and just… leaves it. Abandons it completely.
“There are worse places to spend eternity.” Oh yeah? YOU are not condemned to spend eternity there, though, are you, you smug shitstain? Just the poor sapient who got you out of the self-inflicted problem you created by parking too far from your actual destination when you turned up here in the first place.
I fucking HATE Whittaker’s Doctor. (Not the actress, not the performance – the character).
March 11, 2020 @ 8:39 am
If an intelligence is so different to human/Gallifreyan intelligence that melting clocks is its idea of saying “I have a switch stuck”, there’s no particular reason to assume that it has traits such as “dislikes sitting in one place for all eternity” just because most humans would.
March 10, 2020 @ 3:48 pm
Having thought this was a load of old bobbins at the time, on reflection I’m inclined to like it a bit more.
The Master believes he can destroy the Doctor by revealing a load of tedious lore and then trapping her in the Tardis Wiki. The Doctor defeats this plan by realising the tedious lore doesn’t matter, and escapes by overwhelming the Tardis Wiki with the force of Doctor Who’s bafflingly self-contradictory canon.
Are the Morbius Doctors explained? Not really; per this story, the Doctor didn’t remember them at the time. Is the Ruth Doctor explained? Nope: if she’s pre-Hartnell, her Tardis being a police box doesn’t make sense. The Matrix can cope with the combined memories of every Time Lord who ever lived, but try to stuff Doctor Who into it and it falls over. This seems like a basically sensible approach to take to Doctor Who lore.
We’re left with a Doctor who may have had hundreds of regenerations, of which the run of 13 white blokes was an aberration, and whose past and future are much less important than who she is and what she does. Nobody knows where she comes from or whether there are others like her out there in the universe. A perfectly healthy place for the character to be.
The Doctor was, of course, always the center of the mythology. We only care about the Time Lords because we care about the Doctor. And now? They’re not that important. They took her in and exploited her, so she nicked one of their time machines and ran away. Gallifrey is still significant enough to tell stories about, but those stories don’t have to be fundamental to the character any more.
I quite like all of that. I have absolutely no confidence that Chibnall’s future work will be at all compatible with what I like about it, but for now, it’s OK by me.
It’s a shame it’s wrapped up in such a fundamentally rubbish story. I don’t mind Chibnall having his own go the Parting of the Ways/Day of the Doctor climax, but if the outcome is going to be ‘The Doctor entirely approves of genocide but just doesn’t want the blood to be on her hands’… generously, that requires further exploration that the episode doesn’t do.
March 12, 2020 @ 11:33 am
First of all – I’m sorry, Dr. Sandifer. I’m sorry you had to endure all this, to have your faith in this show so utterly destroyed. I’m sorry that this project, started out of love, ends in such a terrible place. As a reader who joined your Patreon so that you’d continue writing about “Doctor Who”, now I honestly hope that you won’t write about the Chibnall era ever again.
As for the episode itself… I’m not even angry. I’m just left with a great big “so what?”. A bad story about nothing, full of bad ideas that go nowhere. Even the show seems to know how unimportant it all was. The Doctor can’t seem to muster more than a weak “no” in response to all the supposedly shocking revelations and then almost immediately comes to terms with everything. She basically tells the Master “this whole plot was stupid and this shocking twist leaves me unchanged”. Just like the Master tells the Cybermen that their original plan was stupid. If both of these ideas are so bad, why even bother writing a story about them, Mr. Chibnall?
Many people have pointed out how icky it is that one of the Doctor’s big new mysteries is now her species, her blood – because that just a bit too close to eugenics. But what bugs me even more is just how empty the whole idea of “your biological origins matter” is in practice. I mean… who in the real world cares about that? There are, I think, only three contexts where it matters: family (who are you related to by blood), health (you might have inherited a disease) and racism (some people hate you because of your blood). But “Doctor Who” is obviously not going to do any stories about the Doctor’s biological family. Or the Doctor’s inherited diseases. Or the Doctor facing discrimination because of her biological origins. I mean, okay, that last one kinda happened in “The Night of the Doctor”, but that’s about as much as one can do with this concept. So WHY introduce this unusable idea at all?
Aside from that, I have little to say. It took me a week to force myself to watch this episode and the only thing I enjoyed about it when I finally did was the Master’s energy. Why did Chibnall decide this story needed the Doctor to do nothing for most of the episode? Why didn’t the Timeless Child turn out to be the Master (it would make MUCH more sense)? Why were the dead Time Lords bodies able to regenerate? And how does the “guns are bad” message fit an episode where the Doctor accepts a LIFE DESTROYING BOMB as the best solution to a problem (and Ryan defeats some Cybermen with a bomb as well?).
I consider myself a storyteller. I didn’t write all that much and I certainly didn’t create anything as praised as “Broadchurch”, but I do more or less know how stories work. And week after week I’m simply stunned by how bad Chibnall’s writing is. There’s no story, no characters, no drama, just some bad/mediocre plots. I would be ashamed if I ever wrote something as boring, empty and soulless as “The Timeless Children”.
But apparently lots of people enjoyed it, so why even bother with quality, right?
March 14, 2020 @ 5:43 am
Let’s just say it up front. I don’t like the Timeless child idea or the Timeless Children episode.
It’s not because of the continuity issues. You don’t watch Doctor Who if you want strict and perfect continuity. You could make a drinking game out of watching any episode and drinking whenever something happened which contradicted some other part of continuity somewhere.
Not sure how many episodes, let alone series, you’d make it to the end of sober.
So I can live with the continuity problems. Even if the final episode of series 12 has sooooo many of them. My problems lie elsewhere.
Let’s start with what I see as the big one – what it did to the character of the Doctor. As I understood it before the current arc, the Doctor was someone who chose to make a difference. Not because they had to. Not because they were ‘special’. But simply because they could. Yet now we have been presented with a Doctor who is both more and less than that.
The series, at least at its best, has always taken a stand against entrenched privilege. The Doctor is now being presented as someone who is immortal, deathless. An almost unique and special being. You might argue that Doctor must still come from somewhere and that even with a Time Lord origin the Doctor was pretty special. But the Time Lord origin, or something like, was necessary, as the Doctor had to come from somewhere. And the previous origin gave little more than was necessary. Travel in Time and Space was the basis of the series. That implies vast scientific and engineering knowledge. Regeneration was necessary for the longevity of the series (it’s why it was first introduced). So the Time Lords were a pretty minimal solution to the problem. Within that the Doctor was no more special than what they made themselves. What’s been done now is much more than that. The Doctor is special by origin. And while there must be an ‘origin’ somewhere, it so secret that the Doctor may as well be unique.
But it’s also less. We now have a Doctor, at least as presented in the final episode, willing to let the others make the hard choices that the Doctor can’t. And, in this case, an old white male at that. He ‘does what has to be done’ while the Doctor runs away. I invite people to compare Genesis of the Daleks, and the Doctor’s attitude and behaviour in that, to The Timeless Children. The Doctor, in the Timeless Children solves nothing. Does nothing. Is simply swept along by events. Had no hand in helping the companions or the other humans collected along the way. Even earlier the Doctor was unable to stop the Lone Cyberman getting what he wanted, despite the warning from Captain Jack.
An ultimately uncomfortable mix of messiah and helpless bystander.
That’s never been the Doctor.
The origin principle of the Doctor used to be that of a rebellious thief (or thieving rebel) who stole a TARDIS to run away from their people. Now the origin of the Doctor is a lost and abused child. That both takes agency away from the Doctor (the origin is about what was done to them not what they did) and takes away their transgressiveness. Anything the Doctor does now has to be forgiven, because who can criticise a lost, abused, child?
So much for the character, what about the show? The episode took the show to some very dark places. The only way Tecteun could have got the Doctor to regenerate was by murdering them. Over and over and over again. That sort of child abuse has never been part of Doctor Who. The genocide of a race. Somewhere the show has rarely, if ever gone. And never with the sort of abuse of the dead that the Master perpetrated. Even with what Missy did to humanity’s dead, it wasn’t the whole race. The episode also trampled over one of the most joyous moments of the show – the Doctor’s rescue of Gallifrey and its children in Day of the Doctor. That scene with Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt where the number of children on Gallifrey is enumerated, then later the Doctor’s triumph at rescuing them.
All made nothing now.
Do we even still have the same show? Or is this a full reboot in disguise?
While, as I said earlier, I can live with problems in continuity what is far less forgivable are inconsistencies within the story itself.
It is never properly explained why Tecteun limited the Time Lords to 12 regenerations. If you have the prospect of limitless regenerations, as the Timeless Child apparently has, and you want to give it to your race, why limit it to 12? It’s also never explained how the origins of regeneration were hidden. When Tecteun gifted the Gallifreyans with regeneration, did no one ask if it had anything to do with the child Tecteun had brought back from space? A child who kept changing appearance? Why even hide this? Wouldn’t Tecteun have been better saying that it was a result of what she’d found ‘out there’? If the Gallifreyans didn’t know, how didn’t they know? And if everyone did know, how did it get forgotten? Because, if we are to believe the Master, it did get forgotten. If we can’t believe the Master on that, we can’t believe anything the Master said and everything is up in the air.
Now think about the regenerating CyberTimeLord. Think very hard about it. Regeneration repairs damage. Restores life. Apparently the Cyberised Time Lords are still capable of regeneration. Inside those suits they may still be subject to the Cyberman emotion suppressors. But if they were taken out of the suits and made to regenerate? Not too hard to believe that they would have regenerated into free Time Lords. Did the death particle (and what a silly macguffin that was with an oh so convenient legend attached) just destroy people who could have been saved?
The Doctor failing to save so many people who could have been saved has never, as far as I know been part of the show.
I know a lot of people don’t like the Time Lords. I think Chris Chibnall has just been revealed as their hater in chief. But I like them. The Doctor has to come from somewhere. To misquote Voltaire, if The Time Lords didn’t exist we’d have to invent them. The Doctor’s people have to be long lived. To allow the show to go on. They have to be technologically advanced, to explain the TARDIS. The Time Lords fill that role. Yes, they are imperfect, stuffy and bureaucratic, make mistakes and interfere when they shouldn’t. But if the Time Lords didn’t make mistakes, what narrative space for the Doctor would there be? If they were a perfect, benevolent, race, the Doctor is unnecessary as they’d fix everything.
But with all their faults I found the Time Lords ultimately admirable. They decided, by themselves, that Imperialism was a bad thing (Underworld), helped rid the universe of the Rachnos and stood up to the Daleks, at immense risk to themselves. What other race would have done that? What other race, with the power at their disposal, would have been so restrained in its use?
Chibnall turned them into lying, child abusing, thieves.
If you don’t like the Time Lords, what do you expect of whatever is replacing them? They are even older and more long-lived than the Time Lords (having infinite regenerations). They have advanced technology, even if not time travel. But don’t expect them to be amazingly wonderful. They didn’t seem to put a lot of effort into finding their missing child and where have they ever been when the universe has been in crisis? So we have a long-lived, technological advanced race who don’t do much.
Hmm. I question the point of the change. For those arguing that the Time Lords restricted creativity I would ask how, when you have the billion year history of a planet that you can do anything you want with, are you restricted and how is the replacement going to be any better?
Oh, and speaking of age, it appears that the Doctor’s true origin race is immortal. The series has always shown immortality as a bad thing. The Doctor has rejected it when offered (Five Doctors). Immortals have been almost always shown as feckless, selfish and uncaring.
As a final problem, what did the episode do to the Master’s relationship to the Doctor? Before now the Master and the Doctor were two sides of the same coin. Contemporaries, with the same origin. The Master shows what the Doctor could have been, had they been selfish. That’s not true any more. The Doctor was always going to be what they are. It wasn’t that the Doctor went through the same experiences as the Master and made a different choice. Now the Doctor is pre-destined for goodness. They are vastly different, the link is broken. The Master is now just a maniacal villain, last survivor of a villainous race. So very ordinary. There will now always be this gap between the two characters were before there was a link. The Master isn’t the Doctor’s responsibility anymore, as he stated once. The Master is just another cut-out villain.
Just another thing lost amongst the wreckage.
March 15, 2020 @ 3:13 pm
In an effort to forget the bitter taste of this garbage, I went back and watched “Human Nature/Family of Blood”. I needed to remember what it was like when when Doctor Who actually made me feel things, and I cried at how beautiful that story is. That story had always given me the feels, but only now, after the empty, hollow garbage of “The Timeless Children,” did “Human Nature/Family of Blood” actually bring me to tears. And then I kept crying for a little bit longer in sadness at how far this show I love has fallen.
April 26, 2020 @ 6:21 pm
Hello Elizabeth Sandifier. Remember me? We had a few not so pleasant interactions online. I was firmly against a female Doctor.
It’s not that I have a problem with female heroes obviously, or trans people, but I felt that changing the Doctor to that extent was a bad move. It was ultimately changing the very fundamentals of the character.
The Doctor isn’t a Ziggy Stardust, a gender bending alien who defies gender expectations. He is at heart, a dusty, old British gentlemanly hero. Even when he is a young guy like Davison.
You can vary him in other ways, but that’s at the core of the character. For this reason I didn’t like him falling in love with Rose, or being a lothario in Matt Smith’s time.
Ultimately however you couldn’t see past that and called me alt right, and parroted the mantra of DW is all about change.
Now however you’ve seen I was right. When there are no sacred cows in DW, no constants, then yes anything can happen and the Timeless Child shows that’s not a good idea.
I’m not gloating (I did a bit on the Hive I hate to say) as at the end of the day you have lost a show you loved, but now you can maybe understand where I, and others like me where coming from?
Yes there will be some continuity errors in a show that goes on for so long, but if you take that to it’s extreme and have NO continuity and NO core identity to the character then you end up with this.
This didn’t spring out of nowhere. Throwing away the Master and the Doctors core characters, adopting the mantra of to hell with all continuity etc. It was always going to lead to this.
There is a way out of this. We need a rest, followed by a new sequel that ignores New Who, with a new 9th Doctor.
This sequel should adopt a more respectful and nuanced attitude to the past meanwhile. Not constantly reference it, but not go out of it’s way to smash it to bits either.
Reference it when need be, but otherwise move on and create new monsters and stories.
April 26, 2020 @ 6:31 pm
Get the fuck off my site.
July 20, 2020 @ 9:11 pm
What an incredibly nuanced and mature response that was Sandifier.
All I can say is grow the hell up.
THIS is exacly why the Timeless Children happened. You can try and shift the blame onto Ian Levine of all people, but actually it’s the toxic and arrogant element of fandom that you just displayed (and have always displayed to me._
You smear people as sexists, transphobes and racists over disagreements about a tv show. You help make it that the writers of the revival can hide behind an agenda “we’re doing this for women so if you dislike our scripts and ideas you just hate women”, you care more about your own agenda than in good story telling, “it doesn’t matter that you can’t change the Doctors identity too much, I want a female hero and so we are going to rewrite the entire show get that.” You also make out that DW has no identity to justify things like that.
Of course this is where all that thinking takes you. Chibbers was just taking it to its logical conclusion.
If DW has no continuity, no identity, why not rewrite his origins? If agenda matters more than story telling why not retcon that old white male Hartnell wasn’t the first?
Yet whenever I brought this up, it was “I’m a sexist who just can’t stand female heroes” or “You’re alt right.” Two claims that were laughable.
I’m a socialist who undoubtedly likes far more female led and created forms of entertainment than you do. (Hence why I didn’t see a female Doctor as a big groundbreaking thing.)
In the end don’t snap off an olive branch. You’ve only just got to where I was in 2014 when that abomination Missy first pranced onto screen. Id you keep up with that crap, you and the frachise will learn nothing.
July 20, 2020 @ 9:15 pm
November 4, 2021 @ 9:07 pm
I was complaining about this trashfire of an episode with someone and thought, damn, wonder if Elizabeth Sandifer ever weighed in. I was even readying myself to disagree, as I started reading the Eruditorum as the work of someone who always saw the best in DW even when it was a bit crap, and maybe you’d come up with a way that this worked, but—nah. It’s a terrible arc and and a terrible episode and it felt cathartic to read someone whose opinion I quite respect explaining exactly why.
Though it still pisses me off more that the Doctor is suddenly an Amazon fangirl. I never thought anything could make me welcome the return of RTD but this last season went and did it.